SITE UPGRADE COMING SOON: On or around December 1st, 2021, I'll be moving Mindful Teachers to a new, more mobile-friendly platform.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Secular and Spiritual Perspectives on Gratitude

by Catharine Hannay

I keep thinking about the Thanksgiving blessing my uncle gave a couple of years ago based on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Be grateful in all things.”

The idea is to be grateful 
in all things, not necessarily for all things. This was quite a moving prayer, as it was such an awful time for our family—both my mother and my uncle himself were seriously ill. We weren't at all happy about the challenges we were facing, but we did feel tremendously grateful for the outpouring of love and support from our friends, colleagues, and neighbors.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the many, many serious issues all over the world, I think about all of the fine people I've met through Mindful Teachers: mindfulness teachers, yoga instructors, educators from pre-K to post-graduate, nurses, doctors, social workers, and counselors. Different fields, different cultures, different beliefs, but a shared commitment to living and working with mindfulness and compassion.

Here are a variety of perspectives on gratitude from both faith-based and secular sources. 
There's a lot we can learn from going deeper into our own traditions, as well as from approaching other traditions with an open mind and an open heart. 

(Teachers, there are suggested discussion questions at the end of the post.)

"According to Islam, one of our foremost duties is to be grateful to God for all of His blessings. We can describe three levels of thankfulness:  
1. To realize and appreciate all blessings by and within the heart.  
2. To say thanks with the tongue.  
3. To express gratitude by doing righteous deeds."

Gratitude: Hakarat Ha’Tov
From Jewish Pathways
"The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means, literally, 'recognizing the good.' Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours... But most of us tend to focus so heavily on the deficiencies in our lives that we barely perceive the good that counterbalances them... we live in a world permeated by advertising that constantly reveals to us all the things we don't have -- and tells us how satisfied we would be with ourselves and our lives, if only we would buy their product."

“When something is done that is good, helpful or loving, it is often overlooked, treated as something expected. No acknowledgement is shown, no gratitude expressed. But if a shortcoming is seen, everyone is swift to point it out!…Gratitude is a quality of the soul. It does not depend on how much we possess. It's opposite, ingratitude, is a quality of the external ego. When we abide in soul consciousness, we give thanks for whatever we have, no matter how little or how much. When in ego consciousness, we are never grateful or satisfied, no matter how much we have.”
Dharma Talk by Zen Buddhist Teacher Deirdre Eisho Peterson
“Hungry Ghosts... are said to have necks as thin as needles, so very little food can pass through, and they have great distended bellies, so they are ravenous... in continual torment because they have this great hunger that can not be satisfied... The type of Hungry Ghost may be different for each of us, but the energy behind the hunger is the same. There is something we crave, something we feel that we desperately need to be happy... For the Buddha, the recognition of the suffering that comes from our desires, our dissatisfactions, was the foundation for his teaching.”
by Susan Kaiser Greenland at
"When we’re busy thinking about the things we’d like to be different, it’s easy to lose sight of the good that’s in our lives right now. That’s why focusing on this very moment is a powerful practice. Being grateful for what’s happening now can be uplifting even if the moment before we felt down. A feedback loop can then emerge where the more thankful we become the more connected we feel to one another, to the planet, and to ourselves."

"Let us be thankful to those who planted the crops, cultivated the fields, and gathered the harvest; for the plants and animals who have given themselves so that we can enjoy this meal together; and to those who prepared this meal, those who served it, and those who will clean up afterwards. Let us remember those who have no festivity; those who are alone; those who cannot share this plenty; those who are hungry, sick, and cold; and those whose lives are more affected than our own by injustice, tyranny, war, oppression, and exploitation. In sharing this meal, let us be thankful for the good things we have, for family and friends, for warm hospitality, and for good company."

Suggested Discussion Questions:
  • What similarities do you find between the quotes from different religious and/or secular perspectives?
  • How is doing righteous deeds an expression of gratitude? Do you think that gratitude is connected to compassion?
  • Have you ever seen a 'hungry ghost'? Do you think this is the same as a 'want monster'?
  • The day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. is both Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. How do you think the 'want monsters' celebrate?
  • What do you think is the connection between mindfulness and gratitude?
  • What are you most grateful for?

'i am grateful' photo by Carl Attard on


Mindfulness and Happiness (quotes about appreciating the present moment, letting go of attachments, embracing moderation, and finding meaning)